Cherry Dessert

In which I explore some literature.

I have this view of Iowans as practical people.  People without a lot of nonsense.  Straightforward, honest, and hardworking.  It’s a stereotype to be sure. But then again, some of those stereotypes are reinforced by literature.  So maybe I’m not totally off-base.

In college, I would take weekend visits to my grandparents’ house.  I usually brought along homework of some sort.  One weekend I brought along a book I was reading for one of my classes.  It was called Making Hay.  Grandpa picked up the book, studied it for a minute and turned to my grandma.  “Dorothy, look at this. Verlyn Klinkenborg.” “Who?” I asked.  “Oh, he used to play with your uncle when they were kids.”  I almost asked if they were sure it was the same guy, but then I realized that the chances of two people having that name were slim.

For Christmas this year, my husband got me the book Prairie Fires since I have been a fan of the Little House books since I was young.   In it, the author discusses both Laura Ingalls Wilder and Hamlin Garland‘s connection to Burr Oak, Iowa.  My grandparents introduced me to Hamlin Garland’s books when I was young.  We went on a tour of his house.  I can barely remember the trip, but my copy of Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly has moved with me for nearly 30 years.  DSCN3362The practical people that named some of these recipes were not nearly as eloquent as the writers which is why we have recipes named things like “Darned Good Candy” and “Cherry Dessert.”

So what is Cherry Dessert?  It’s a nut and cherry filled cake topped with a jammy cherry sauce and whipped cream.  It is delicious and addicting.


The first time I made it, I mixed everything up together (with cherries from my trees) and put it into a prepared 9×13 pan.  Before I even got it all into the pan, I realized that I probably should’ve used a smaller pan.  The cake layer was about equal to the whipped cream layer.  The bad part about this was that it took a large piece (or two) to leave me feeling satisfied and the cherry dessert would call my name as it sat in my fridge.  DSCN3368The second time I made it, I had much better results in a smaller 8×8 pan.  I neglected to let the cake cool completely before adding the whipped cream to the top.  The results were a bit runny and messy, but nonetheless incredible.


The sweetness of the cake, the tartness of the cherries, and the creamy layer all combine to make a dessert that satiates every dessert craving except chocolate.  It’s cool and a bit crunchy.  This is going to be a staple at my house during cherry season.   Cherry Dessert

Cherry Dessert

1 c sugar
1 egg
1 TB butter, melted
1 c flour
1 t soda
1/4 t salt
1 c sour cherries (reserve juice)
3/4 c nuts

Bake at 350 for 35 minutes

Cool.  Cover with whipped cream.

Heat juice, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 TB flour, 1 TB cornstarch.  Cook until thick.  Add 1 T butter. Chill, spread over cream.


Knit-ivity Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve…

1 Day Until Christmas…

There are no more cookies.  There are no more candies.  There are no recipes today at all.  Today, I am simply going to show you a wonderful gift that was given to me by my family.  My dear aunties, mom, and grandma all knitted me (and all my siblings and cousins) a Nativity.  My grandpa built the creche.  DSCN3536

When the boys were little, they got to play with this nativity. I used it to tell the story of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.  I got to the part where “…and in the manger Mary had a baby.” and was interrupted by my oldest correcting me, “No, mom.  Mary had a little lamb.”

Around the time the boys started to get bored by the Nativity, the girl was born.  Her second Christmas, she stared wide-eyed as I got it out.  She looked at it, got a naughty smile on her face and went toward it.  “It’s ok, baby girl, you can play with that.” I said.  She lost the smirk and went to find something else to do.

Every year when I get out this Nativity, I smile.  There are four generations of love wrapped up in it.

Christmas Sugar Cookies and Peanut Brittle

2 Days Until Christmas…

2 days until Christmas…

It seems appropriate to finish off my cookie plates with classic treats that are as good today as they were when my great-grandma made them.  These are the sorts of treats that most American kids grew up eating.  I am not sure I remember a single Christmas without Sugar Cookies and peanut brittle.  DSCN3532Being a very modern woman, I’ve dabbled in other types of brittle.  We’ve made bacon almond brittle with hints of rosemary and chilis.  We’ve tried pecan brittle with a bit of orange rind.  I’ve even tried to make brittle in the off-season.  Somehow, though, we always find our way back to peanut brittle.  It’s crunchy and caramel-y.  It’s chunky, salty, and sweet.  This is better than the weird boxes of peanut brittle you can pick up at the drug store.  It’s worth risking the burns. DSCN3531 Another thing to note, I had a heck of a time finding appropriate peanuts to put in the brittle.  I just wanted some Spanish peanuts.  I feel like I used to see them all over, but I went to a couple of different stores and didn’t see them.  I used cocktail peanuts instead, lightly salted. DSCN3529 There are an insane amount of sugar cookie recipes available.  This one is one that you should not make according to the recipe.  If you follow the recipe, the thing you make will be a sweet quiche-y sort of thing.  It will not be cookies.  The recipe is missing flour.  I don’t know how the proofreader missed that.  After consulting various cookbooks, I determined that for the amount of fat and eggs in the recipe, about 5 cups of flour was the right amount.  I was slightly wrong.  I think 4 1/2 would’ve been better.  I added a couple of tablespoons of milk to hold everything together.

The best part of making sugar cookies is decorating them afterwards.  We cheated this year and bought cookie frosting.  I get a break on this one, I made 6 different kinds of cookies and 6 different kinds of candy in 2 days.  It allowed me to sit down with the kids and decorate with minimal clean up after.  The kids love to decorate cookies.  They are getting quite accomplished at it.  There was some marbling going on and some fancy sugar work.

That wraps up the cookie plate for this year.  Plates were taken to neighbors, plates were taken to work.  We are going to need to have people over to help us eat the rest of them.

Christmas Sugar CookiesPeanut Brittle(Velva)

Church Windows and Darned Good Candy

3 Days Until Christmas…

3 Days until Christmas!

Before I even begin with discussion on these recipes, I need to comment about those mini colored marshmallows.  Do they really exist for a reason outside of small children, jello salads, and grandparents? DSCN3523The first time I heard about Church Windows cookies (are they cookies or are they candy?) was after our tree fell on our neighbor’s fence.  It might be the biggest event this neighborhood has seen in a while.  It was such a big event that as we were cutting it down, neighbors from the senior housing facility put out their chairs, plugged in their crockpots, and sat outside to watch.  I treated them to some rhubarb brownies and some chocolate chip cookies.  Some of the men came over to help.  We started chatting about Christmas cookie plates and he told me about the church windows cookies.  I assumed he was talking about stained glass cookies, but when he described them, this was exactly what he meant.  I never expected to find that recipe among my great-grandma’s.  DSCN3526No matter what the recipe says about double boiler, melt the chocolate in the microwave.  It’s so much easier.  Put it in for a minute, stir it after a minute, it might need another 15 or 30 seconds, but it won’t need much more.  Stirring these bad boys is hard.  It’s messy and involved.  DSCN3520Ok, so flavor…think something like rocky road.  But vaguely fruity with coconut.  They aren’t bad, but probably best in small doses.

As for the candy…who in could resist something called “Darned Good Candy”?  I made it wrong the first time I did it.  Use chopped pecans instead of whole pecans.  It makes a difference.  I also learned to not put hot candy on waxed paper.  Guess what happens?  It sticks.  You end up with delicious candy that leaves paper in your mouth.  So these pictures are of the second time that I tried making the candy.  DSCN3522

Darned Good Candy is like a caramel taffy.  It’s stiff and it’s creamy.  It’s got buttery undertones and the pecan flavor permeates the whole candy.  Yeah, it sticks to your teeth, but in the best possible way.  It’s really darned good.

Church WindowsDarned Good Candy

Darned Good Candy

3 cups sugar
1 cup sweet or sour cream
1 cup white corn syrup

Bring ingredients to a boil.

Add 1 heaping cup of chopped pecans and 1 tsp salt.  Boil to a very hard ball.

Add 4 TB butter and 2 tsp vanilla (mix until butter is melted).

Let cool 10 minutes.  Start beating lightly until mixture begins to hold its shape.  Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased sheet.  (I shaped the warm candy into small oblong pieces).


Crispy Spicy Cookies and Seaside Candy Roll

4 Days Until Christmas

4 days until Christmas…

Christmas flavors.  Ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, chocolate, peppermint, and…maple?

Since I know everyone loves when I do my true confessions, the big reason I decided to make the Seaside Candy roll is because it was on the same page as the Crispy Spicy Cookies and the Easy Divinity. As I was making it, I realized how much my friend’s mom would like it.  When I was done making it and firmly into the tasting phase, I realized that it was very much like something you would find for sale at Cracker Barrel.  (My husband’s family’s natural habitat).  For some people it probably does bring back memories of vacations in those beach towns on the East Coast.  I’ve never been, so I don’t know.  There is something sort of Christmassy about it, though.  Pecans and maple and sweetness.  DSCN3518This is one of those candies that requires no heat.  If you are going to use your handy Kitchen Aid, you want to use the paddle attachment until everything comes together.  At that point you can switch to the bread hook to knead the candy.  DSCN3519

We had friends over to help decorate the Crispy Spicy Cookies.  My darling, patient husband led a 3 year old, 4 year old, and 6 year old in the process while I was out Christmas shopping.  I’m only kind of sorry that I missed it.  I walked in to the house to see little hands putting the lightly spiced cookies into open mouths.  The flavors are gingerbread without molasses.  We had a minor issue while making cookies.  Someone didn’t really understand the directions and didn’t know to cream the butter and sugar before adding the dry ingredients.  It dried the mixture out a lot.  We ended up adding a bit of liquid to loosen things up a bit.  I don’t think it affected the flavor.DSCN3517

Christmas isn’t Christmas without something like gingerbread.  My son is describing gingerbread as “that soft, sweet, spicy deliciousness that tickles the back of your throat.”  I keep telling him that I’m not writing about gingerbread right now, but it doesn’t stop him from telling me.  DSCN3516That’s what these cookies are like.  Snuggling with your oldest on the couch, with a Hallmark Christmas movie on, and the tree lit.  The smell of cookies in the air and the sound of your middle child reading a bedtime story to his younger sister.  Just light perfection.  Crispy Spicy CookiesSeaside Candy Roll